Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 25, 2004
Listen! Is God calling you to serve the poor?
Following the Lord's path can be tricky
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Jesus said to the fishermen Simon and Andrew: "Come and follow me." And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there, he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving their boat and their father, they followed him. (Matthew 4:19-20.)
What happened to these four fishermen must have been a most mesmerizing experience as they accompanied Jesus who " went around the whole Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.
Fire in their hearts
Can we just begin to imagine the sort of ride these four fishermen experienced as they accompanied Jesus on this first missionary venture? They must have felt a great fire in their hearts seeing the powerful deeds Jesus performed, listening to his words of wisdom and of love, witnessing his ministry of mercy to the poor and the sick.
When I look back at my own experience of being called, it was a long and painful affair. I had my dreams of prosperity, pleasure, adventure and total independence. I did not leave at once, but lingered about for years while attending college, slowly making up my mind, putting off the decision as long as I could.
It was a long struggle to let go. One has to give up so much. My dreams, plans, hopes, agendas, the pull of the world, not to mention ambition, temptations, wanting to be like everyone else. The loss of independence, of a career: I wanted to become a lawyer, making tons of money.
God's call came to me when I was young. It first came from the sisters and teachers who taught me, also from the pastors I knew. It was encouraged at home. When I was about 10 years old I witnessed the ordination of a local man, Father Elphege Fillion, as well as his first Mass in the Donnelly church. It was a moving experience and it impressed me deeply. Being an altar boy for many years was also a factor.
I attended colleges run by the Oblate Fathers, Grades 9 and 10 in Falher, and from Grade 11 until I graduated with a B.A. at College St-Jean in Edmonton six years later. These Oblate priests and brothers impressed me greatly by their gifts as educators, but also by the breadth of their expertise whether it was in teaching math or philosophy or Latin, or in their coaching our hockey and football teams or again in their drawing out of us great harmonious sounds with the choir they directed.
By the time I graduated in the spring of 1959,the decision that it would be a privilege to join such a great professional group of men welled up in me with little struggle. That fall I hopped the train with half a dozen other guys and the next day we got off at Winnipeg. When we arrived at the Oblate novitiate in nearby St. Norbert I had a profound sense that I had come home.
The following August I professed vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for a year. I received the news I was to go to Rome and continue priestly training.
The following five years went by quickly, especially after I had gotten a good grasp of the Latin that was used by the Jesuits at the Gregorian University that I attended. I was ordained to the priesthood in December 1964 in the chapel of the Oblate General House in Rome with my parents as well as my brother Andy and sister Marguerite attending.
Half a year later I returned to Canada, where I began active ministry in the Peace River country as director of students in a small college we ran there. Soon I was given the job of diocesan director of religious education which got me involved in many schools and parishes in northern Alberta.
I experienced rich and rewarding years in various ministries for which I'm most grateful. I'm writing these lines in an Oblate house in Guatemala City, in Central America. I feel called to serve in this Third World country. I'm grateful to the local Oblates for their invitation that I continue living here, contributing any way I can to their missionary effort.
I did serve 40 years in Alberta and, praise God, the dream of foreign missions in the heart of a neophyte priest a great many moons ago is now being realized. I'll be looking forward to welcoming younger men with dreams in their heart and fire in their bellies to come forward, and give a hand.
If any of you experience a movement of the heart to serve God's needy people, please give a call to my provincial superior in Edmonton: Father Camille Piche, telephone (780) 460-6928. Perhaps some day we'll meet in the jungles of Guatemala.
I'll be looking forward to welcoming younger men with dreams in their heart and fire in their bellies to come forward, and give a hand.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.